How Murphy & Rude Malting is Challenging the Industry to Debate a Shorter Supply Chain

This is a part of a continuing series of Q&As with members of the brewing community from across the U.S.
Brewer Magazine will share business and personal insights from Brewmasters, Head Brewers, Brewing Managers, Sales Directors, QCQA Managers and others each weekend to help you get to know each other better in the industry and learn more to better develop your own brand.

Jeff Bloem, ​founder​/maltster​, Murphy & Rude Malting — Charlottesville, Virginia

BREWER: ​How has your business strategy evolved to help grow and stay competitive?
BLOEM: We aimed to differentiate ourselves right out of the gate by going to market as a specialty malt house. We produce a wide variety of base and high-kilned malts but our roasting capabilities allowed us to more than double our number of products, allowing us to be a one-stop-shop of sorts, while also giving breweries a slew of different ways to weave us into their own production models. In terms of evolving, we’ve started putting some pilot projects into action to explore new product potential. They help us continually evolve and keep our product line fresh, but these projects also ignite conversations with our customers and forge new or deeper relationships with growers. While we regularly re-evaluate our production efficiency and scale that impact price competitiveness, it’s the direct interaction with new and existing customers that we thrive on. Anything that strengthens that connection is a step in the right direction.

BREWER: ​Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?
BLOEM: John Bryce (MBAA, Lupulin Exchange, Blacksburg Brewing, Old Dominion, Starr Hill, Meriwether Springs, and currently Mount Ida) has been an invaluable sounding board and guide to me as I’ve begun my journey in this industry. He’s a neighbor, friend, entrepreneur, and industry veteran that I consider myself lucky to have at arm’s length. He’s neurotically data-driven and detail oriented but also very big-picture; he’​s​ grounding while also being an innovator and constant learner. I always float new ideas through him first to get a trustworthy gut reaction plus a healthy dose of reality when I need it most. What’s great is that he does the same with me. We have our own businesses and priorities but we also enjoy the distraction of talking about how we might help each other on new potential projects. And to be honest it is a completely unexpected friendship. Despite always believing in the value of a mentor, I never went out actually looking for one. He found me through the [Craft Maltsters] Guild forum and sent me an email with his 2008 VLB Thesis on Micromalting Wintmalt. We met at a local tap house, ordered a few Union Jacks, and he drilled me with questions about my business plan. The first malt I ever commercially produced went to him for a SMaSH beer meant to highlight Calypso barley and we’ve worked together ever since.

BREWER: ​What idea did you or your team come up with lately that has been a big benefit to how your business functions?
BLOEM: We are in the process of launching our new “Mill Fresh” campaign together with RadCraft for release through myriad channels of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine’s Industry Guide. While the benefit is yet to be calculated in a tangible way, the campaign has forced me to ditch my default scaredy-cat posture and actually say something, out loud, that I believe in. But rather than trying to quantitatively define what “fresh” is with this campaign, we are simply encouraging craft beverage producers to decide if they care or not, or better yet, determine for themselves whether they could do a better job or get better results through a shorter supply chain. It forces us to look internally, too, to assess it for ourselves through sensory work and make adjustments to production schedules to ensure we are continually delivering on the promise.​

BREWER: ​If you had one business strategy that you could implement to better the brewing industry, what would it be?
BLOEM: Comprehensively Disrupting the Supply Chain. Malt is still very much in the Macro-only days craft beer was in back in the 80s and 90s. Yea​h​, there were a few smaller guys out there​ ​…​ ​the Anchor Steam’s, Bells’, Boston Beer’s, New Belgium’s, Sierra’s of the world but those were for special occasions, and it was EXPENSIVE! Look around now and there is a craft maltster in damn near every state, some with serious production capacity, but most brewers still rely, almost robotically, on mega-malt-owned distributors to stay stocked up on the super cheap stuff. If everyone would just pause, say 10 seconds, before ordering that skid of god knows what from god knows where, it could philosophically change how the brewing industry operates. There is still a huge amount of potential for differentiation out there, and it’s not just that DDH DIPA with eight aroma hop varieties.

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